February 15, 2017
Hurray for Musical Colonialism-Imperialism!
Mozart did it with the Rondo a la Turca finale of his piano sonata K.331. Beethoven - with the Thème russe in his Razumovsky Quartets. Boulez's Le Marteau sans Maitre alludes to the sounds of Balinese gamelan music, while Steve Reich's Drumming is a minimalist recollection of his trip to Africa. Fortunately for for art music, its pathetically low profile in today's American society has kept such colonialist-imperialist musical transgressions invisible to vigilant social justice warriors who are always ready to flood social media with indignant yapping about the evils of cultural appropriation - say, when they see a photo of some Caucasian celebrity bimbo wearing an 'ethnic' Halloween costume. Lets hope things stay this way. My Go-Fuck-Yourself List is already way too long to accommodate what must be nearly the entire Twitter-cum-Facebook generation of useless whiny assholes.
As for cultural appropriations, one of my favorite musical examples is Elliott Carter's rather abstract take on North Indian Dhrupad music. During his 1964 visit to Berlin, Carter attended a concert by the Dagar Brothers and was intrigued by the music's continuously unfolding line being passed from one player to another. Twenty years later he used this idea for Penthode, in which a long continuous musical line passes from one instrument to another in an ensemble of twenty players divided into five groups of four (with each group comprising instruments of different types). The piece was commissioned by and dedicated to Ensemble InterContemporain (and its then music director Pierre Boulez); and I doubt a better case can be made for this unusual bit of Carteriana than this ensemble's live recordings from a 2016 Proms concert conducted by Baldur Brönnimann and a 2001 Paris concert conducted by David Robertson.